By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - Retailer Casino
Casino, whose shares rose, added it was confident of delivering on its plan to complete 1.5 billion euros (1.35 billion pounds) of asset sales by early 2019 to help cut debt. It also confirmed its financial goals.
The group, whose credit rating was cut to junk by Standard & Poor's in March 2016, is under pressure to show it can revive profits in France, where it competes with bigger rivals such as Carrefour
Casino, which controls Brazil's top retailer Grupo Pao de Acucar
Stripping out acquisitions, currency effects and revenue on fuel, sales rose 5.2 percent against 3.1 percent growth seen in the first quarter.
Casino, along with domestic peers such as Carrefour and Auchan [AUCH.UL], faces intense price competition in its home market as well as challenges from online players such as Amazon
Finance chief Antoine Giscard d'Estaing said he was confident over Casino's first-half results due on July 26.
He said Casino was benefiting from "strategic initiatives" taken in previous years in France, Brazil, and in the field of E-commerce, and expressed confidence Casino could grow its third quarter sales in line with the trend of the second quarter.
Casino shares were up 3 percent in early session trading, although the stock remains down roughly 30 percent since the start of 2018, partly on concerns over the debt position of parent group Rallye
"We reiterate our 'market perform' on Casino after the company reported solid Q2 sales and confirmed full year guidance. The focus will remain on deleveraging," wrote brokerage Raymond James.
Same-store sales at the Geant Casino hypermarkets in France rose 2.8 percent, an acceleration from 2.1 percent growth in the first quarter, as organic food products proved popular.
Its Monoprix, Franprix and Casino-branded stores also posted robust performances, notably in the lucrative Paris market.
Sales also rose in Brazil, helped by a strong performance of the Assai cash-and-carry outlets.
In order to cut costs, protect margins and cope with changes in shopping habits, particularly amid younger generations, retailers have been forming new buying alliances and sealing partnerships with tech giants.
Casino has a joint purchasing alliance with Auchan, German retailer Metro and France's Schiever. It is also expanding its online offering through a deal to use UK online retailer Ocado's
For 2018, Casino has forecast organic growth above 10 percent in consolidated profit, excluding tax credits, and for organic growth in French operating profit, excluding real estate activities, also above 10 percent.
In France, Casino has cut prices and retail space for non-food items at its Geant hypermarkets. It has also handed the management of its consumer electronics goods to its CDiscount unit and is rolling out CDiscount areas in Geant stores.
"This generates good traffic. It is a plus for the global traffic of the store," Giscard d'Estaing told analysts.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Alexandra Hudson)